Hip-Hop Is Getting Whiter, but That Doesn’t Mean the Genre Is Doomed

Dave Bry, New Republic, February 18, 2014

Earlier this week, in a review of a concert by a white rap-reggae duo from Boston, New York Times’ Jon Caramanica addressed “a phenomenon that’s been happening for some time—white rappers performing for predominantly white audiences.” But Aer’s recent performance at Irving Plaza took place in a slightly different atmosphere. The success of Seattle’s Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at last month’s Grammys, where they won three awards in rap categories, was “the sort of pigs-flying moment that gets prognosticators to prognosticating, and self-designated cultural protectors to fuming. Here was a pop-inclined white hip-hop act that had leapfrogged to juggernaut status in barely a year and in turn become a bellwether of racial shifts of in the genre.”

Caramanica predicts there’s much more this—white rappers “performing to an almost exclusively white audience”—to come. He’s right.

To hip-hop traditionalists, this is a nightmare come true. Houston rap legend Scarface, of the pioneering gangsta rap group Geto Boys, sounded the alarm recently in comments to the website VladTV. “Hip-hop is hip-hop,” he said. “And it ain’t going anywhere, you know what I mean. The face might change in 25 years. You know, hip-hop’s gonna be white in 25 years. It’s gonna be all white kids. No more—it’s gonna be like rock n’ roll. To find a Geto Boys record in 25 years is gonna be rare. Some of you don’t even believe that shit. You better fuckin’ believe it.”

The fear, as Caramanica noted, is not new. It reared its head five years ago when a blonde-haired, blue-eyed kid from the Philadelphia suburbs named Asher Roth had a top-20 hit with a rap song called “I Love College.” Ten years before that, of course, Eminem gave rap its own Elvis, selling millions upon millions of records, becoming not only the biggest rap star on the planet, but perhaps the biggest pop star of any sort.

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{snip} In 2013, for the first time in the 55-year-history of the Billboard Hot 100, not one black artist lodged a number-one single. (Of the eleven songs that held the spot for some portion of the year, four were hip-hop, and four featured black singers or rappers in guest roles.)

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Some have even gone so far as to anoint Macklemore some sort of savior of hip-hop, a Great White Hope who will help the genre evolve into a more enlightened form. A recent Dallas Morning News headline sums up this perspective: “Macklemore shows hip-hop doesn’t need to be homophobic, violent in Dallas concert.”

Like Serch said, with so many more white people listening to rap than black, more and more white people will make it (and, it’s hard to deny that its easier to sell a white rap star to millions and millions of white consumers than it is a black one). So let’s imagine that, in 25 years, most of the people making it are white, and that, like rock, it’s thought of as a white form. Shouldn’t we expect black artists will be on to creating whatever next new form might challenge the status quo the way rap did, and the way rock n’ roll did before that? {snip}

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